Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic Honour Sun Ra At Saalfelden Jazz Fest 2016

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This year’s Saalfelden Jazz Festival boasted an excellent mix of well-known international stars and relative European newcomers, all performing in this delightful scenic town in the Austrian Tyrol. The main concerts took place in the Saalfelden Conference Centre, a modern purpose-built venue with a fantastic VIP roof terrace offering a glorious view over the surrounding mountains. Supporting this main site were a smaller club-type venue presenting intimate shows under the banner of ‘Short Cuts’ and a City Stage, hosting free concerts with an emphasis on world-type music in front of the region’s town hall.

Most interesting of the gigs on the City Stage were Douba Foli, featuring a host of DiabatesMamadou, brothers Abdoulaye and Mobido, along with Brahima – playing joyous West African rhythms in their brightly-colored costumes; the Mostar Sevdah Reunion which brought the Balkans beat to bear; and lastly China’s amazing Dawanggang, with their incredible mix of classical Chinese tradition and more modern jazz and rock styling.

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The Short Cutsvenue showcased more adventurous music – the Tim Berne/Marc Ducret duo and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit were both outstanding, as was a solo set from bass clarinetist Michael Riessler. Saalfelden regular Jim Black was in attendance with his New Quartet, featuring the excellent Elias Stemeseder (piano) and Oskar Gudjonsson (sax). Meanwhile, a great find was Jamie Saft’s crack unit Starlite Motel, with Norwegians Rune Nergaard (bass) Kristoffer Alberts (sax) and Gard Nilssen (drums).

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The main venue always offers an eclectic mix of music and this year was certainly one of the best – from the New Orleans jazz of Steve Bernstein/ Henry Butler and the straightahead bebop of Marty Ehrilich Sextet to the strange world of Chiri, mixing free playing from Aussies Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Simon Baker (drums), with the vocal contortions of Korean Bae il Dong – very leftfield. Highlights mostly came from the op names. The Emile Parisien Quintet featuring Joachim Kuhn and Michael Portal were just immense, Kuhn and Portal are world class and Parisien isn’t far behind. Cellist Vincent Courtois’ trio with Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker on saxes were beautiful and along the same lines Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth’s trio with guitarist Stephan Meidell and percussionist Oyvind Hegg-Lunde were sublime, both bands providing deep contrast to the more robust music on stage.

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Jim Black reappeared with his old band Human Feel, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Speed on great form, and Susana Santos Silva continues to impress, this time accompanied by the great Lotte Anker on sax. Tomeka Reid, another cellist, has rapidly risen from the Chicago AACM school and here displayed poise and confidence playing alongside Mary Halvorson (guitar) Jason Roebke (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Austrian Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Shake Stew, featuring two drummers and two bass players, were an interesting concept but, for me, fellow countrymen Edi Nulz, propelled by drummer Valentin Schuster and driven by bass clarinetist Siegmar Brecher and guitarist Julian Adam Pajzs were the hottest new band on show. The energy, enthusiasm and sheer class of their musicianship was evident to all. They remind me of Acoustic Ladyland for the sheer power of their performance.

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Most fun were Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic, his homage to Sun Ra. The band, all Ra aficionados first, rather than out-and-out jazzers, made a slightly manic, but absolutely joyous journey through the Cosmic Captain’s interstellar material, molded perfectly to the capabilities of the musicians who were obviously all having a ball on stage. The audience were clearly loving it too. What more could you ask for?

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson